Thursday, November 7, 2013

Telling and Not-Telling: A Classic Grounded Theory of Sharing Life-Stories

Trudy Lee Powers, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership & Change

This study of Telling and Not-Telling was conducted using the classic grounded theory methodology (Glaser 1978, 1992, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This unique methodology systematically and inductively generates conceptual theories from data. The goal is to discover theory that explains, predicts, and provides practical applications for what is truly going-on with the people (or problem) in the field of study.

The theory of telling and not-telling involves a universal social process that is valid across fields of inquiry. In this study, it applies to people who share their stories of personal life-experiences, as well as to those who choose not to share, and those who are undecided or are contemplating sharing. It also applies to those who are seeking (trying to find) pieces of their stories—whether personal, family, or historical. Ultimately, sharing life-stories is about connecting with others. However, people may place limits on how, what, and with whom they share; especially in cases of trauma, they may create boundaries.

There are a number of underlying elements to this theory: the spectrum of life experiences, levels of awareness, roles and positional relationships, trust, boundaries, time, and the positive outcomes and negative consequences of sharing. Beyond these, the heart of the theory includes a number of intertwining and layered elements: people seeking their own stories as well as the stories of others; keeping secrets and silences, and not-telling; deciding whether or not to tell; generational passing down of family and bounded community stories, cultures, and traditions; and finally breaking the silence—often of traumatic experiences. Each of these main areas further encompasses a number of significant elements.

This theory may be useful for anyone seeking, sharing, or contemplating sharing life experiences with others. It may also be useful for those in various fields who help people work through their life experiences, as it presents several aspects of sharing story in a holistic manner. Furthermore, the concepts may be used by anyone contemplating whether or not to tell.

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